CHICAGO - Consumer products giant Unilever announced plans yesterday to spin off the baked goods unit of newly acquired Bestfoods, and Sara Lee Corp. immediately surfaced on analysts' lists of potential acquirers.
The announcement comes amid a flurry of takeovers and sales in the food industry as companies try to sharpen their focus and grow to thrive and control costs. Earlier this month, Unilever completed its takeover of Bestfoods. with brands such as Hellmann's mayonnaise and Skippy peanut butter.
The baked goods unit, based in Bay Shore, N.Y., had sales of $1.7 billion last year with brands such as Entenmann's desserts and Thomas' English muffins.
Earlier this year, Sara Lee began a series of moves to concentrate on a three-pronged focus of food, underwear and household products. It sold PYA/Monarch, one of the nation's largest food distributors, for $1.6 billion to Dutch giant Royal Ahold, and raised nearly $200 million by selling a 17 percent stake in its Coach leather goods business.
Sara Lee also has announced intentions to shed several other units, including athletic apparel-maker Champion.
Those moves make Sara Lee, above all others, a likely potential acquirer for the Bestfoods baked goods unit, said Ann Gurkin, an analyst with Davenport & Co. in Richmond, Va.